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It’s raining!  But, then, we DO live in Seattle, where it’s supposed to be raining all the time.  You do know that that is a lie, right?  And THAT is NOT “fake news”.

In fact, yesterday it was quite nice.  In the 50’s, with sun shining and an invitation screaming at me to get out onto the garden terraces.  img_6061So, of course I went, iPod camera in hand in order to capture some more of those early appearances!  As you can see, the gardens are subdued from a distance, but that will change SOON!

The first thing I saw was a ROBIN! img_6058 I am from the Northeastern corner of this great country, so to me, a robin is a true harbinger of spring!  In Seattle however, they tend to be here all the time.  But, I don’t care.  I’ll still assume s/he was chirping to me the happy news that Spring is about here.  I hope that makes you as happy as it does me.

As I wandered around the terraces, I saw rose buimg_6043shes with new growth bursting forth at the end of each branch or where ever else they felt like coming.  One rose (actually a few) had had an early spring/late winter pruning and looked a bit sparse, but give them a week or so, and it will have a ton of those red buds as well. img_6052

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Bulbs, both large and small, were sending up their tendrils of leaves, reaching for the sun and getting ready to form a bud or two. img_6036 Some of them already had!  Oh, joy!

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There were helebores still showing their lovely blooms, which had been showing all winter, but are even more lovely now.  Legend has it that they are the tears of a girl who had come to see the Christ Child, but had no gift.  That is one of the reasons some folks call this the Christmas Rose, even though it has NO relation to any rose you or I know!

Ib’s decorative Kale is a spectacular eye catcher.  It stands a few feet tall…and begs to be noticed, which img_6054of course, it is!

As big as the kale is, there are also tiny sprouts making their unobtrusive appearance.img_6049

By time June rolls around, the gardens will be full of color and ready to welcome you to our Garden Tours and Presentations.  Stay tuned!img_6035

Oh, yes!  There is hope and renewal in the garden…everyone’s garden.  I took these pictures of our gardens just this week.  Go and look for yourselves!

Some things never died back.

img_6014 Some things are budding and preparing to burst forth.img_6015img_6017

Branches are forming.

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I noticed one of the roses (in fact the one pictured) has a plastic label around the stem.  It is too tight.  It has obviously been on there for a few years.  It’s time to cut it off.  Remember, even plastic will strangle a plant.  Cut those labels off as soon as you notice they are getting a bit tight.  But, goodness, look at those new stems just itching to get longer!!

Bulbs are pushing up toward the sun.img_6021

Have you begun checking out the gardening catalogues yet?  They are full of colorful ideas.  You don’t have to buy anything…just enjoy making plans!

SOILS

At our last Garden Committee meeting the topic of “SOIL” came up.  Although we all have a pretty good idea that as gardeners, we know what soil is…it ain’t necessarily so!  My aim here today is to acquaint us with the REAL meanings, definition and uses of various types of SOIL.  They are definitely not all the same!

For instance, do you know that “dirt” is the stuff under your fingernails; what’s on your dungaree knees; the debris carried into the house on your sneakers after being in the garden; what the dog brings in; and in general, what you need to vacuum up to keep the house clean?  That is NOT the stuff we plant our posies in!

What we plant in, is SOIL!  But, there really are different types of soil.  As gardeners we should be aware of what they are and how to differentiate between them, so we use them properly.

We could start by calling it a “planting medium”.  The reason for that is that there are so many soil types.  Here is a site from the University of Maryland Extension Service.  After a fair amount of searching I found this one which is pretty basic.  No super charts, or long chemical connections…just the simple facts.  I will go into more specifics about what is available to you here at Horizon House.

We essentially have 3 (three) different soil types available for your use.  Remember you should NOT need to add much soil at all.  All the garden beds have ample soil right now.  Occasionally, you might want to top dress, or dig in a bit of compost (as an amendment).  If for some reason you really do need to add soil, it should be in the “top soil” category.  So, here goes!

TOP SOIL   is what you will commonly find beneath your feet, in any garden environment!  Top soil varies in quality, depending on where it is found.  The top soil on a mountain top will  be very different from that on a river flood plain.  So, unless you know where it originates, you really won’t know at all whether it’s any good at all for your garden.  But, having said that, the Garden Soil we get is in a bag. We can rest assured that it is decent soil.  It is NOT special potting soil, that often has amendments added; nor is it mulch or compost.  It’s just plain soil…nothing more, nothing less.  Here is a link about soil basics  that you might find interesting.

MULCH  is what you put on top of the soil, around your plants.  It provides protection from drenching rain; it holds moisture which your plants can access easily; it provides shade for tender roots lying just beneath the surface; weeds cannot find their way into your well mulched garden; it provides warmth, protecting roots from deep freezes.  Over the year(s), if it is organic, it breaks down, adding texture and nutrients to the soil below.  This means that you can add, probably SHOULD add, new mulch every year, either in the spring or the fall.  Go to this link about MULCH which will add to your understanding of this product.  And by the way, do not worry about the mulch getting into the soil.  It will break down and become compost in the soil.  It will also provide instant bulk and moisture retaining qualities. (There is also non-organic mulch which will not break down, like plastic and rubber.  We do NOT utilize non-organic mulch in our gardens here at Horizon House.)

COMPOST is what I define as “Black Gold”!  compost-handIt is naturally broken down organic materials.  These are usually composed of leaves, grass, discarded garden plants (NOT diseased) and even non-fatty kitchen scraps(fat attracts “critters”). It sits and decomposes until it’s totally broken down.  A process that takes about a year.  Here is a link that will explain the process of making and using COMPOST.  For our gardens at Horizon House, we get bagged compost.  We should use this as an AMENDMENT to our garden soil.  It should NOT be 100% of the soil surrounding your plants!

Ragan suggests a ratio of about 4 parts garden soil to 1 part compost.  I’d say that’s even a bit high, but it’s a good guide.  The compost can be worked into the soil around your plant roots.  When you plant new materials, work some compost into the soil.

So there you have it.  I hope that helps.  I’ll try to get that little chart we talked about at the meeting posted somewhere in the E level storage area.

 

 

 

Someone was concerned because many plants appear to be dead or dying out in our garden terraces.  So, I put on my “woolies” and ventured out to check all three levels.

 

What I found there were three levels of gardens suffering from winter!  I found nothing unusual. I found that most gardeners had done with their gardens, what they needed to do.  They had cut back perennials that needed cutting back.  The hardy perennials that had been left, were in differing states of life.   Some of them looked fabulous!  Some looked a bit haggard (like me on a cold, windy day).  And some looked a little surprised that their moderate Seattle had dealt them a surprising hand with freezing temperatures over a few weeks.

Seattle doesn’t often suffer from such cold for so long.  BUT, right now that is what’s happening.  If our tender plants were not bundled up (like we have done with ourselves when we’ve ventured out) before this hard frost hit, they are suffering a bit.  But, worry not.  Nature has planned for this.  Notice, even the plants caught in their own little pond, are doing quite well!

The plants that are perennials are doing just fine.  It could be that their tops have died back…but that’s OK.  That’s what they do!  They will come back robustly in the spring.

The shrubs and trees (be they large or little) that are deciduous (losing their leaves in the winter) have lost their leaves, making them look a bit naked.  The other trees and shrubs look wonderful.  Their leaves and budding tips are just waiting to burst forth on the first warm day.

The annuals, or non-hardy plants, large and small, have succumbed to Father Winters cold blasts…as they are expected to do.  They do NOT look good.  They are the ones that should find their way into the compost!

The final word on all of this is not to worry.  It’s too late to do anything anyway.  Some of the gardeners have either put, or left, fallen leaves on their garden beds.  That is a wonderful technique of mulching (snugging up the plants).  Nature takes care of it’s own.  When a cover is needed…there are the fallen leaves!

img_5956Many gardeners also cover their plants with burlap when a hard frost is expected, but nature hasn’t planned anything like that, so it’s nice, but not necessary.  That is a more prevalent technique in areas with snow and wind, to protect a plant against losing too much moisture, and even protecting branches from heavy snow loads.

All in all, I think the gardens look great.  Don’t worry!  All will be well in the spring.  And if you’ve lost something, consider it an opportunity to plant something new and different!

This week I hung my little hummingbird feeder up again.  img_5905It’s facing in an awkward direction…I’ll have to fix that.  I’ll insert a photo of it here.  The gravel seems to indicate that I’m at ground level…in a sense I am, but on the 4th floor.  What you see outside it is the edge of our “Green Roof”, which happens to be gravel.

I know the hummers are here because I see them going to the flowers planted in the pots scattered about on the green roof.  I’m in the “patiently waiting” mode right now.  I have filled the feeder with sugar syrup.  I use 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.  I combine those in a pot, and bring it to an easy boil, stirring until the sugar is totally dissolved.  I then pour it into a little bottle which I keep in the ‘fridge, until it’s time to fill the feeder again.  I certainly bring either cold or hot solution to room temperature before presenting it to the birds.

I am also careful to clean the feeder between uses.  I usually have two feeders, so I can put the used one in the dishwasher, and fill the other one.  If you have a feeder that can’t be put in the dishwasher…you do need to clean it by hand before putting it out again.  Be sure to rinse it carefully after washing.  Soap is NOT good for those little birds.

I also know that here at Horizon House we are not supposed to have bird feeders outside our units.  I understand that.  Birds are messy eaters, strewing seed and discarded hulls all over.  This draws unwanted critters.  It also creates a mess on windows and balcony’s below…because birds are not particular about where they “poop” or throw seed.  So, NO REGULAR BIRD-FEEDERS at Horizon House!!!  Not even on our garden decks.

I need to insert a disclaimer here.  When we know (and we DO know) the exterior window washer person is due to clean our windows, these feeders MUST BE REMOVED to allow them to clean the windows without impediment!  This is an easy task, and a small one to pay for the pleasure of watching these little natural wonders at our window!

But, then we come to hummingbirds.  I dare you to find their “poop” on your windows.  Occasionally a tiny remnant might be found on the feeder itself, but it is never larger than the head of a pin!  They have no seeds to discard, and they are pretty efficient sippers.  They don’t spill.  Too bad my kids never learned that skill!

Hummingbirds are our constant winter companions here in the Seattle area.  They are not as prolific as in the summer, but they are here.  There are some flowers available for them, but the feeders provide extra nectar, for which they rejoice.

My grand-daughter gave me a “2017 Old Farmer’s Almanac Gardening Calendar” for Christmas.  I’m delighted.  I’ve had many of the Old Farmer’s Almanacs, but never one of their calendars  set up specifically for Gardening. screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-11-20-04-amOver the years, I’ve applied their ideas to help me in my gardening, and then taken many of the things I’ve learned and put those “beefed up” ideas into my blog, and finally into my book (A Year in My New England Garden), which is essentially a gardening calendar with gardening vignettes to go along with it.

I am always looking for timely ideas for my blog, (which you are reading now).  So, she is helping me with my new endeavors as well.

These  Calendars tell of the joys we find as gardeners.  There is something there for EVERY day, which for us, is such a pleasant reminder.  Even if it’s the middle of January, we still can dream of our days in the garden!

Thank you Anna!

ROAD SALT

De-icing, road salt, sodium chloride, anti-slip, whatever you want to call it, it’s a deadly mix for our plants.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-8-19-46-am

I know here at Horizon House we don’t have to worry about that in our gardens, but we may have friends and children who’s homes and gardens may very well be affected in a big way.

Yesterday, we walked up the street to the drugstore.  There were salt crystals everywhere on the sidewalk and on the street.  It’s a good way to make the roadways safe, but that Road Salt will play havoc with most plant materials.  The link I just gave you takes you to an article about what happens.  It’s from Rutgers University Extension Service.  Which isn’t really right here, but it is a great explanation of what occurs when that nasty stuff gets into the soil, and on the leaves of your plants.

In the northeast, or in locations where sodium chloride is used on the highways and roadways, it is quite obvious that something is affecting the plants and trees by the roadsides.  Many trees are  dying back or browning up.  Here is a very clear description of what happens from the U. of Vermont.  It gives such a good and simple explanation of what happens “when salt meets plant”!

When the salt hits the leaves, it is very caustic to them, causing “die back”.  When it gets into the soil, it uses up the water (think salt shaker…do you put raw rice into your shakers to absorb the moisture?  If you don’t, the salt will take up the water and form clumps.)

In the winter, plants have a hard time getting enough hydration to begin with, because the soil tends to be frozen.  The leaves give up moisture as well, so the plants soon will suffer from dehydration.  You can use an anti-desiccant which will help the leaves hold onto that precious water.  It decreases transpiration.

Now the next time you see die-back  of trees and plants next to the roadways, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what causes it.  Again, here we are causing nasty things to happen to our environment!

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